She’s allergic to sheep, horses, cows. Still, Loni Blumerich wanted a hobby farm.
She read that alpacas are hypoallergenic, and after doing some research, she went to a show in Wisconsin.
“There was a venue with 250 alpacas in the building. I walked in the door, and I fell in love with the smell,” she said. Alpaca owners let her get her face in the fiber, and she had no allergic reaction.
That was the start of Frosty Ridge Alpacas, a mom-and-pop business run by Loni and her husband, Horst. Outside of Duluth, they own 32 registered alpacas of their own. They board some and show others at competitions.
The Blumeriches had no livestock experience when they started, but there was a wealth of information online. Loni bought a couple of books, and for about three years, the couple visited as many alpaca shows as possible, she said.
They've picked up some mentors in Wisconsin, and are highly in tune with the animal’s heritage and history. Their needs are simple, she said, shelter, water, fresh grass or hay.
Setting up for the alpacas took some time. When they bought their 10-acre parcel of land in “livestock-friendly” Solway Township, there were no pastures, but there was a barn for their starter herd of six. Their alpacas lived in a two-car garage while the couple built fencing.
They now have an on-site store, where they sell alpaca fibers and other goods. On the walls are competition ribbons. On racks, there’s Frosty Ridge fibers from alpacas Esteban, Cyrus, Max — and pics of their faces. On the floor, bins of fleece in black and cream.
Alpacas come in 22 natural colors, Blumerich said. Fully grown, they weigh 150-160 pounds. One alpaca costs about $500 per year to maintain, and that covers feed, hay, grass and vaccinations. They’re gentle, curious animals; they don’t want to be held.
It’s important to keep an element of wildness in them, so they can protect themselves if there’s a predator run-in, said Alina Oswald, Blumerich’s daughter.
Herds are necessary because they live in family groups.
And they need herds for their mental health, said Blumerich. “They rely on each other, they interact with each other.
“The adults teach the babies how to be an alpaca and … we want them to be mentally strong.”
They live 15-20 years, and the couple have lost some — one to a parasite, another to stomach cancer. Blumerich, who grew up with house pets, had to develop a “farmer’s attitude,” she said, listing the personalities of several of their four-legged friends.
Katalina is named after Blumerich’s daughters; she’s well-rounded and isn’t easily stressed or provoked. Rosalita will put her foot on the fence to make herself taller when Blumerich is dishing out the feed. Chelsy Rose loves apples.
Frosty Ridge is a family biz. Horst Blumerich does field maintenance, fertilizing, plowing; Loni's in charge of gardening and landscaping.
They also have chickens and bees; he handles the latter, she tends to the former. As for the alpaca feeding, watering and clearing “bean” piles — they tackle that together.
Blumerich said they have a common goal. “As long as we remember that, life is good.”
It was shearing day recently at Frosty Ridge.
“It’s a beautiful fleece. Come a little bit closer,” Horst Blumerich said to visitors. Some onlookers sat on benches, some stood nearby.
The male alpacas stood pastured on one side, females on the other. Two at a time, they were laid flat and restrained with rope, as the shearer moved efficiently, shaving rows of thick fibers, which were quickly bagged by volunteers.
They’re restrained for the safety of the shearer and the animals. They’re stretched, but they’re not pulling their joints apart, Loni Blumerich said. “Some people think it’s inhumane to shear animals like this. … If we don’t do it, they will die of heat stress in the dead of summer.”
One of the alpacas sported a mullet. Duncan’s new ’do rested in white tufts on his head and long neck. He looked like an ’80s rock star, a little overconfident and sassy.
Duncan’s mullet was Alethea Montgomery’s idea. He was a Valentine’s Day gift from her husband. The couple has had him for about four years, and he’s been a boarder at Frosty Ridge ever since, with “visitation every Sunday,” she said with a smile.
It’s the second year Montgomery has asked the shearer to shave Duncan’s mullet. Both times, she said she got a quizzical reaction.
Brent Winslow has sheared mullets and mohawks before. It takes a different thought process to create it, he said during a break.
The process can take 15 minutes to shear an alpaca, trim toenails (yes, toenails, not hooves) and administer annual shots, he said.
At the end of shearing day, they yielded more than 300 pounds of fleece, Blumerich said. And there were at least two buyers ready to take it home.
Rachel Roe drove from Thief River Falls, Minn., for the goods.
She learned how to knit when the “needles were longer than my arms,” and she’s been spinning her own wool for about three years.
She had two bags of Chelsy Rose’s fleece and one bag from Esteban. She has plans to make a white shawl for her sister, maybe some silk.
“I like the idea of natural, local fibers,” she said.